In the old days, had Network Rail (NR) or any of their predecessors put forward proposals for taking the station out of Crewe and putting it somewhere in the nearby countryside, there would have been one source of dissent, and that dissent would have invariably made NR think again. That source would have been Gwyneth Dunwoody.
But Ms Dunwoody was no longer with us; her death in early 2008 had resulted in the byelection won by Tory opportunist Edward Timpson (the man with marginally more charisma than a Burton’s dummy), and he was an unknown quantity. Timpson had shown support for the workers potentially affected by the closure of the Royal Mail sorting office – some would have to move to Warrington, or commute – so hopes were initially high that he would lend his support.
Those hopes were soon dashed. Timpson sat on the fence, asking the electorate for their preferences, rather than giving leadership. Instead, opposition to the NR proposal was provided by CREAM, a convocation of elected representatives, trades unions, and independently minded citizens. This opposition soon had to counter a campaign of misinformation, much of it originating from NR.
Crewe station was said to be “just not suitable for modern trains”. How could this be? There was nothing wrong with the platform length, height, width or curvature. The signalling was sound, although it might require renewal in the future. Power supplies for electric trains were in good order.
There was more. The station was held to be “slowing the trains down”, with the speed limit of 80 mph being cited. What was not mentioned at the same time was that this limit could not be raised until the curvature to the north of the station was eased, and that would mean significant remodelling of the track layout, plus a bridge rebuild and taking the east side off the Tesco car park.
Then there was the argument about trains crossing over the layout – what are known as conflicting movements. This mainly applies to services running between Manchester, Crewe, Shrewsbury and Cardiff. But the facility already exists for trains to pass under the north end of the station, with land available to the west side of it for new platforms.
CREAM countered these arguments, and gained valuable publicity. But Edward Timpson MP did not come on board. His ultimate excuse was that the campaign had become “politicised”. Hell’s teeth. He’s a politician: politicised is his business. So the opposition to NR had to move forward without him. And we were none the wiser about NR’s motivation for the exercise.
I’ll shed some light on that, with a few sums, next.